British Library calls for help in preserving internet
The British Library has called on the Government to extend its mandate to include the internet, in order to allow it to better catalogue the nation’s “web heritage”.
So far, the Library says that it has managed to collate and catalogue 6,000 web pages in its online database out of the suspected 8 million sites currently in the UK. These include forums discussing the 2005 London bombings, blogs and news sites from the last General Election and information from last year’s outbreak of Swine Flu.
The British Library says that its current Legal Deposit mandate, which allows it to archive every book and magazine published in the UK, should be extended to the internet to meet the increasing move of information online.
If we don’t catalogue some of this material it could be lost forever. It would be really interesting for people in the future studying not only history, but how people interacted with the web
Legal Deposit libraries include the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Trinity College Library in Dublin and the National Library of Wales – although the British Library is the only one which must collect all information published in Britain.
“The issue is around copyright,” said a spokesman for the institute. “We are not looking to claim copyright on web pages, we are just looking to archive or copy stuff from the web so that it doesn’t disappear forever.”
“Everything on the internet is copyrighted, so up to now we have had to ask specific permission from each website to copy it. But 6,000 is not even a scratch on the surface. We want the Government to extend Legal Deposit. If we extend it to online and allow the British Library to snapshot the web annually… then at least the records will be there.”
The average lifespan of a site is currently 75 days, meaning that a lot of information is lost. The spokesman claimed the need to snapshot the internet was “about capturing the whole debate”.
“If we don’t catalogue some of this material it could be lost forever. It would be really interesting for people in the future studying not only political history, but how people interacted with the web and with politics through the internet.”
Comparing the upcoming election to the 2005 Labour victory, the spokesman said that the library captured 141 pages from the time, taking an accurate snapshot of the election at a time when the internet was nowhere near as large as it is now.
“At the time there were only about a million members on Facebook and YouTube was three months old… Look at Obama’s election and how it exploded on the web. How will that impact on the 2010 [British] General Election?”
He argued that, as more of the debate around the issues of the day moves online, it is becoming increasingly important to archive it accurately for the future.